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Crime and Punishment in Richmond, February 2009

From Chief Chris Magnus:


Friday, Feb. 13, 2009, 8:10 p.m., 200 block of S. 2nd St.--At approx. 2007 hrs., Officer D. Riley observed suspicious activity in the 200 block of S. 2nd Street.  Officer Riley has extensive knowledge of the drug dealing in that area and knows several dealers who are active there.  Officer Riley observed one of these individuals conducting what he believed was a street sale of narcotics to a vehicle stopped in the area.  Officer Riley had arrested this same suspect earlier in the week for other drug-related violations.

            As Officer Riley attempted to make contact with this suspect, the suspect walked to a nearby residence on 2nd St. and throw baggies containing an off-white rocky substance over the fence into the yard.  Officer Riley detained the suspect and located two individually packaged pieces of off-white rocky substance.  Officer Riley arrested the suspect.


Monday, Feb. 2, 2009—Following chronic problems with trespassing and “hanging out” around the liquor store at Cutting Blvd. and 33rd St., our Special Counsel—Trisha Aljoe—following up on arrest made by the beat officer was able to secure a conviction in court against Andre Jacob (DOB 8/6/60) for RMC 11.68.030 (Trespass on Commercial Property).

He was given 2-days jail (credit for time served), fined $150, and placed on probation for three (3) years. The terms of his probation include:  a 100 yard (300 feet) stay away from 3322 Cutting Blvd. (liquor store) for duration of probation; an order not to commit the same or similar offenses; and the usual obey all laws.


Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009—We were notified by Deputy D.A. Cabral that Lamarea Mims, DOB 02/10/91, pled guilty to 32 PC (Accessory) in relation to the killing of Aaron Beltran. As many of you know, the shooting took place on 01/26/09 in the 5000 block of Creely Path, while Beltran was attempting to sell Mims and another BM several guns. We are still attempting to identify the second suspect, who has been described as a BM, approx 14 yrs of age, with a short braided or twistie type hair style, wearing a “baby blue” horizontal stripped polo shirt with a white background.

The guns that were taken from the victim (two AK-47 rifles and possibly even one 38 cal. handgun) at the time of the shooting are still outstanding. ~ Info from Det. Avon Dobie


Wed., Feb. 11, 2009--On February 4, 2009, the department’s Family Services detectives were contacted by Officer Chris Decious regarding an arrest made by Officer Googins.  On February 3, 2009, Officer Googins conducted a traffic stop on a silver BMW X5 on the Richmond Parkway.  The driver of the BMW, Michael Stevens, was arrested on an outstanding warrant.  Stevens had a known prostitute in the vehicle and his cell phone rang several times--displaying sexually explicit photos of women.  Officer Longacre responded and towed Stevens’ vehicle pursuant to his arrest. 

On Feb. 4, 2009, Officer Longacre was reading the Contra Costa Times when he noticed an article about a rape that the Sheriff’s Department was investigating.  The rape had occurred several days prior in the 200 block of Parr Ave.  The article listed a description of the suspect and a vehicle description (a silver BMW X5).  The article urged anyone with information to contact the Sheriffs Department.

Officer Longacre recalled that the vehicle he had towed the previous day and he thought the suspect description might match the suspect in the rape case.  Officer Longacre gave the article to Officer Decious and Officer Googins who also thought the description matched suspect Stevens.  Officer C. Decious provided the detectives with the newspaper article, booking sheet, and a copy of the tow form.  

Sgt. Bisa French contacted the Sheriffs Department and provided them with suspect Stevens’ information.  She also spoke to RPD Detective Gray, who advised her that he was working three additional rape cases involving this suspect.   The modus operandi in all the rape cases was the same. The suspect would pick up a prostitute and tell them that he was a police officer.  He would then act as if he was talking to other officers on his cell phone or a walkie-talkie radio and drive to the area of Parr/Richmond Parkway.  He would then rape the victims and kick them out of the vehicle. 

Upon follow-up investigation, several of the victims picked STEVENS out of a photo line-up.  On February 11, 2009, Detective Gray and Detective Sommers (CCSO) presented the case to Deputy District Attorney Cashman.  DDA Cashman filed 14 felony counts against suspect Stevens.  His bail was set $6,000,000.   This suspected serial rapist is facing life in prison as a result of the outstanding police work done by the above mentioned officers.


Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009, 2:15 p.m., 2100 block Carlson Blvd.--Officer Abetkov responded to an address in the above block on the report of an attempted burglary.  Upon arrival, the victim told Officer Abetkov he was taking a shower when he heard loud banging coming from his front door.  The victim went to the front door to see who it was.  He opened the front door, but nobody was there.

            The victim then heard someone trying to pry open his bathroom window.  He went to the bathroom window and opened it.  He saw a black male adult standing outside the window. The victim yelled at the suspect and asked what him what he was doing. The suspect took off running northbound on Carlson Blvd.

            Officer Shanks observed a BMA, fitting the description of the suspect, walking northbound along Carlson Blvd.  Officer Shanks and El Cerrito PD officers detained the suspect who was positively identified by victim. The suspect was found to be in possession of a woman’s purse and jewelry.  El Cerrito officers went to an address found in the purse and determined that a house in El Cerrito was also burglarized.

            Detective Hall and Detective Wentworth from El Cerrito PD interviewed suspect Fleisher and determined that he was responsible for several burglaries in Richmond and El Cerrito.


Excellent article from the Boston Globe with local implications:


Breakthrough on 'broken windows'

In Lowell experiment, crime linked to conditions

LOWELL - The year was 2005 and Lowell was being turned into a real life crime-fighting laboratory.

Researchers, working with police, identified 34 crime hot spots. In half of them, authorities set to work - clearing trash from the sidewalks, fixing street lights, and sending loiterers scurrying. Abandoned buildings were secured, businesses forced to meet code, and more arrests made for misdemeanors. Mental health services and homeless aid referrals expanded.

In the remaining hot spots, normal policing and services continued.

Then researchers from Harvard and Suffolk University sat back and watched, meticulously recording criminal incidents in each of the hot spots.

The results, just now circulating in law enforcement circles, are striking: A 20 percent plunge in calls to police from the parts of town that received extra attention. It is seen as strong scientific evidence that the long-debated "bro ken windows" theory really works - that disorderly conditions breed bad behavior, and that fixing them can help prevent crime.

"In traditional policing, you went from call to call, and that was it - you're chasing your tail," said Lowell patrol officer Karen Witts on a recent drive past a boarded up house that was once a bullet-pocked trouble spot. Now, she says, there appears to be a solid basis for a policing strategy that preemptively addresses the conditions that promote crime.

Many police departments across the country already use elements of the broken windows theory, or focus on crime hot spots. The Lowell experiment offers guidance on what seems to work best. Cleaning up the physical environment was very effective; misdemeanor arrests less so, and boosting social services had no apparent impact.

Such evidence-based policing is essential, argues David Weisburd, a professor of administration of justice at George Mason University. "We demand it in fields like medicine," Weisburd said. "It seems to me with all the money we spend on policing, we better be able to see whether the programs have the effects we intend them to have."

And this particular study, he said, is "elegant" in how clearly it demonstrated crime prevention benefits.

The broken windows theory was first put forth in a 1982 Atlantic article by James Q. Wilson, a political scientist then at Harvard, and George L. Kelling, a criminologist. The theory suggests that a disorderly environment sends a message that no one is in charge, thus increasing fear, weakening community controls, and inviting criminal behavior. It further maintains that stopping minor offenses and restoring greater order can prevent serious crime.

That theory has been hotly debated even as it has been widely deployed.

Critics have pointed out that defining "disorder" is inherently subjective. Some challenge "broken windows" success stories, questioning, for example, whether New York City's decrease in crime in the 1990s could have been caused by the decline in the use of crack cocaine or other factors.

Bernard Harcourt, a professor of law and political science at the University of Chicago who has been critical of broken windows policing method, called the Lowell experiment fascinating because it showed that changing the nature of a place had a stronger effect on crime than misdemeanor arrests.

"It helps practitioners," said Brenda J. Bond, assistant professor of public management at Suffolk. "We need to . . . focus on hot-spot areas like this using these kinds of tools and techniques." With lead author Anthony Braga, a senior research associate at Harvard Kennedy School, Bond co-wrote the study detailing the findings, published in August in the journal Criminology.

The work has directly influenced policing in Boston, said police Commissioner Edward Davis, who was chief in Lowell during the study. In Boston, Davis has created "safe street teams" that target disorder in 10 crime hot spots.

"We've given them a special number at City Hall to call for removal of graffiti, any kind of disorder, any broken windows, any trash in the street," Davis said. "You have to prove to the officers it works, and doing this type of experimentation, having findings published, goes a long way."

The strategies continue to flourish across Lowell. "Sometimes, we create mini-task forces to saturate an area at a particular time of day when we see disorder," Lowell police Superintendent Kenneth Lavallee said. "We target those activities that could be a quality of life issue, like drinking, motor vehicle enforcement."

As Witts, the patrol officer, drove around the city last week, she pointed out evidence of success. A brick apartment building that once racked up 100 calls to police in a three-month period has, she said, had just one incident over the last six weeks. Gone, she noted, are the unregistered cars in the parking lot, the broken fence, and the code violations in the building - as well as problem tenants and crime.

The Lowell study is not the only support being given to the broken windows theory. A second study, published in the journal Science in December, reported on how it held up in individual experiments in Europe.

In one, researchers staked out an alley in Groningen, Netherlands, where people parked their bikes. They attached fliers to handlebars in one setting that was clean, and one in which the walls were covered with graffiti. They found that only a third of the participants tossed the fliers on the pavement in the clean alley, whereas more than two-thirds did so in the less orderly environment.

In a second experiment, researchers tried to stimulate a crime. Letters that clearly contained money were left sticking out of mailboxes, one in a clean neighborhood, and one in a neighborhood where the mailbox was covered with graffiti.

In the clean neighborhood, 13 percent of passersby’s stole the envelope, while in the disorderly neighborhood, 27 percent did.

Beyond broken windows theory, psychologists are studying how the environment influences behavior and thinking.

"One of the implications certainly is that efforts that invest in improving the environment in terms of cleanliness may actually help in reducing moral transgressions because people perceive higher moral standards," said Chen-Bo Zhong, assistant professor of management at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

All of which plays out in the theory that Wilson and Kelling introduced in 1982.

"Think of how long it took," Kelling, a Rutgers professor, said of the latest evidence. "If you're a police executive or a policy executive, you can't wait 27 years - you have to make good policy decisions based on bad data and good theory and correlation."

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson@globe.com